Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks has said that neither Jonas Jerebko nor Charlie Villanueva has put a lock on the fourth big spot in the rotation, so maybe Mitchell could get in there quicker than originally thought.
“I think he played well,” Cheeks said afterward. “His attention to detail was good. I think you know he’s a rookie. He’s going to make some rookie mistakes. He made a few of them tonight, but veterans make mistakes, too.”
Given Maurice Cheeks’ stated preference toward veterans, I’d be surprised if Tony Mitchell wins the job, but it’s absolutely to Mitchell’s credit he’s in the race. Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva know they can’t take a rotation spot for granted, and Mitchell is still building a relatively strong case.
Mitchell has made an astounding 11-of-15 shots and is averaging more rebounds, blocks and assists and fewer turnovers per minute than Jerebko and Villanueva in the preseason. He’s also averaging considerably fewer points and considerably more fouls per minute than those two.
If Mitchell makes the rotation, the Pistons would be getting a low-usage, high-efficiency, mistake-prone player. At this point, I’d take that over Villanueva and maaaybe Jerebko. Considering Mitchell has the highest ceiling of the bunch and, as the youngest of the three by five years, the most room to grow, he’s even more appealing
It’s also possible Cheeks doesn’t have to decide immediately. Villanueva left Tuesday’s win over the Wizards with back soreness, and it’s possible both Jerebko and Mitchell fit into the initial rotation.
If the Pistons are missing enough guards (Brandon Jennings and/or Rodney Stuckey) when the season begins, that could trickle down into playing time for Mitchell. Chauncey Billups could slide from shooting guard to point guard, though that’s not even a requisite move here. Kyle Singler could slide from small forward to shooting guard, especially if Cheeks deems Kentavious Caldwell-Pope unready. Jerebko could slide from power forward to small forward. And then Mitchel could play at power forward.
That might even buy Mitchell enough time get his bearings and solidify a rotation spot. But if I had to guess now, Jerebko is the fourth big man, and Mitchell will begin the season glued to the bench while the game’s result is in question.
At minimum, Mitchell is making a case to make the active list nightly when everyone is healthy. Right now, even that isn’t guaranteed for him.